Thea de Gallier
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
This article is part of: Centre for the New Economy and Society
- The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 reveals in which parts of the world risks like recession, conflict or the climate crisis are ranked the highest.
- Economic downturn was considered the number one risk over the next two years by a significant number of regions, including the US and over 20 European countries.
- The report recommends localized strategies as well as cross-border coordination to tackle these global risks.
The risk of societal upheaval, whether in a physical, political, or social context, is ever-present in modern life, but the perception of those risks varies between countries. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 explores the world’s most pressing threats over the coming years, and how different countries have different vulnerabilities, based on a variety of factors.
Half of respondents predict a moderate risk of catastrophe
Over half (54%) of respondents to the Global Risks Perception Survey expect a moderate risk of catastrophe in the next two years, the report found. Looking further ahead to the next decade, 46% thought things would get even worse, saying they expected ‘turbulent’ times.
The amount of respondents who think major global catastrophes are looming increases over the longer term. Image: WEF
Economic downturn is a major European concern
The report’s Executive Opinion Survey, which surveys 11,000 business leaders in 113 economies, provides a more detailed breakdown of risks by country.
When looking on a country-by-country basis, several trends become apparent across regions. In Europe, more than 20 countries – including Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom – all listed economic downturn as their number one concern over the coming two years. Unsurprisingly, among the countries that didn’t rank it as the greatest risk was Ukraine, which named interstate armed conflict as the biggest potential cause of future turbulence.
Economic downturn was a common theme in South and Central America, too, with Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela all rating it as the top cause for concern. Many countries in that region also listed inequality in the top five risks, as well as extreme weather events.
African countries’ risk perceptions varied
While some regions appeared to share concerns across wide geographical areas, other results were more disparate. Looking at the responses of African countries, concerns varied significantly. For instance, Cameroon listed unemployment and illicit economic activity as its top two risks, while nearby Benin ranked use of biological weapons and erosion of social cohesion as the biggest potential dangers.
Nigeria, which sits between Cameroon and Benin, had concerns related to the economy in four of its top five risks. South Africa, meanwhile, included energy and water supply concerns in its top five, pointing to worries about its infrastructure.
The state of the global economy is high on many countries’ list of concerns. Image: WEF
Where the climate crisis is – and isn’t – a concern
Extreme weather events were a top-five concern for Japan, Dominican Republic and Croatia, while Italy, Chad and Bahamas cited failure of climate-change adaption as a major risk factor.
Both Australia and New Zealand ranked economic downturn as their number one risk, and energy supply shortages and extreme weather events were in both countries’ top five concerns. It appears that the effects of the climate crisis are combining with worries about societal infrastructure and the economy, demonstrating how these forces can interlink.
Economic downturn was ranked at number one by the United States too, but – as with the UK – the climate crisis didn’t feature in its top five. Instead, in a nod to its geopolitical position in relation to instability elsewhere in the world, use of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons was the US’s fourth concern.
How can the world tackle these risks?
The report says that “localized strategies” are needed to tackle “the impact of those inevitable risks that we can prepare for” and that the public and private sectors can play key roles.
Both “single breakthrough endeavours” and the “collective actions of individual citizens, companies and countries” can move us closer to global risk reduction, it says.
“Even in a world that is increasingly fragmented, cross-border collaboration at scale remains critical for risks that are decisive for human security and prosperity.”
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.